The Denver Broncos kicked off their rookie minicamp Friday, and it extended into the weekend as the team got its first look at the 2016 draft class.
It’s a time for new players to gain valuable experience as they begin their pro careers. It’s also a time when coaches get to see what the draft class looks like in a pro practice, and it begins a period in which the team is forecasting what a young player can do.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak knows how important rookie minicamp is to the offseason program.
"It’s extremely important because it’s quality time for us and we...have them here for a couple of days," he said. "We can talk and show them a lot examples and stuff about players and things. I think it’s extremely important...just interacting with everybody and associating with this organization."
The rookie many fans are most excited about is quarterback Paxton Lynch out of Memphis.
In the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, the Broncos moved up a small handful of spots to select Lynch with the 26th overall pick. Lynch is a tall (6'7"), athletic passer with the arm strength to make every throw required in the NFL.
Earlier this offseason, the Broncos traded for veteran Mark Sanchez. He has experience working in a similar offense from his days at USC. Sanchez could easily begin the season as the starter if Lynch is not ready to take his place at the top of the depth chart. However, the rookie has an opportunity over the next few months to make his case for the first spot.
From the early clues gathered after Lynch was drafted, it looks like the Broncos will have no issue throwing him into the fire. Will he be ready for Week 1? Should he get more time to develop? Let’s investigate the signs the team has given us at this early juncture.
Coming from a pass-happy system in college, Lynch is far from a finished product, and he’ll have to develop a pro skill set. This includes working from under center regularly, making multiple reads across the entire field while dropping back, and understanding how defenses will try to disguise coverages.
On his first day of action, all Lynch did was work from under center. His dropback seemed smooth, and his scissor step was natural and crisp. Lynch did a good job of staying light on his feet after the dropback and before his throws.
Kubiak was blunt in his observations of Lynch from day one of rookie minicamp.
“Just watching today, he’s swimming," Kubiak said. "I think this guy is going to make up a lot ground very quickly. He’s very eager. He’s got some very good characteristics or energy, I guess I should say, from a leadership standpoint [from] just watching him work out there. A lot to do, but he’s all in, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Lynch's accuracy on short and intermediate passes was quite good. His pass placement was different for various receivers, but that should improve with more reps.
He aired the ball out a few times during the part of practice that was open to the media, but the results were mixed. Lynch has the arm strength to stretch the field vertically, but he overthrew his intended target a few times. However, he throws with proper velocity, and the ball cuts through the air nicely, rising and falling properly to make it more catchable.
Lynch was honest with an assessment of his first day: “I thought I threw decent. It was my first time throwing in a while to real receivers. Obviously our timing is going to be off. I’m learning the footwork and they are learning their steps so it’s going to be a little different, but I thought I threw pretty [well].”
The timing with his receivers will come. While things were a little bit off, there’s a good chance that by the next time we see Lynch, his passes will have an even better completion rate.
Too Much Too Soon?
The Broncos seem like they’re going to throw a lot at Lynch in the coming months. He will get bottle-fed the playbook to start this offseason, but when the team hits the dog days of training camp in August, he will be asked to retain even more information. It’s a lot to ask of a young mind, but the team has indicated multiple times it will push Lynch as fast as he can absorb his responsibilities.
Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison does not believe Lynch’s growth will be stunted by asking him to do so much at this early point in his career.
“I don’t know about that," he said. "You just throw it at them and let them work at it. Mark [Sanchez] has some experience, Trevor [Siemian] has experience in this system and Paxton, I think, is good competition. They will work off each other really well.”
If Lynch is ready, Dennison has no problem starting the rookie, saying, “We’re going to play with the best 11. I don’t care who they are or where they came from. If they are on the team, the best 11 are going to play. Whatever gives us the best chance to win.
“I think we do a good job of getting our guys exposed to a lot of information quickly with the rookie camp. With the OTAs, we put them in there with the veterans whenever we can. If they develop and they are ready to go and they can help us win then that’s who is going to play.”
The Learning Curve
The Kubiak system is known to have simpler reads for quarterbacks. The Broncos offense will frequently use bootlegs and rollouts to attack a defense, cutting the field in half for the quarterback. This is a feature of the offense that could help shorten the learning curve for a young passer.
So how big will Lynch’s learning curve be? Kubiak seems to have an idea.
“[In] college football, there is a lot of no-huddle on the ball," he said. "Guys have menus, what they call menus, so they’re not really calling plays or those types of things. A lot more verbiage in what we’re doing, but I also think it’s giving him a lot more information to work with.
“It’s different, but it’s different for a lot of guys. Just watching him today, I think he’ll catch up pretty quick.”
The Broncos offense is going to be balanced, and in today’s pass-happy league, it will seem run-heavy compared to what other teams are doing. The rushing attack is going to help keeps things simple for the quarterback as well. With a revamped offensive line, starter C.J. Anderson should be able to move the ball and reduce the yardage needed on third-down situations.
Unlike other quarterbacks who have to make big throws on crucial downs, the Broncos quarterback will benefit from a ground game that can move the chains. If Lynch is the starter, he may be handing off more than making pass attempts. In fact, if he only averaged 20 to 25 passing attempts per game as a starter, that wouldn’t be a surprise with the way this dominant defense and strong rushing attack can play.
With the first practice for Lynch out of the way, he can continue on his quest to be the team’s starter. In the eyes of the potential franchise quarterback, reality has set in.
“Yeah, obviously coming out here—this is your first time getting on the field since you became an NFL player, so it’s pretty crazy," Lynch said. "I’m really blessed to be out here...now I’m here as a Bronco, and I’m really excited. I’m just really glad I got a practice under my belt."
Kubiak likes what he’s seen from the rookie so far.
“Obviously [Lynch is a] big, strong, talented young man," he said. "He throws the ball very well. ... It’s exciting to see a kid like that and what he can become."
The Broncos want to see how Lynch handles the large workload he’ll be given. They want to microwave his learning curve and see how quickly he picks up the nuances of the Kubiak offense. The team is not taking it slow with Lynch but instead throwing his development into hyperspace.
Lynch is the quarterback of the future for the Broncos—and the future may be starting sooner than some people think.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided by the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.